Paquito D’Rivera presents his new album, Funk Tango, under the group name “The Paquito D’Rivera Quintet?”. The “Quintet” piece of the name refers to his working group: Paquito on Alto Sax and Clarinet, Diego Urcola on Trumpet and Valve Trombone, Alon Yavnai on Piano, Oscar Stagnaro on Electric Bass, and Mark Walker on Drums. These musicians accompany Paquito in an ongoing schedule. This regularity shows on the recording, lifting them beyond the “sideman” roles into musical equals, composers, and creative instigators. The “?” piece of the name refers to the flexibility of the group to adapt to additional musicians or smaller configurations. In addition to the core quintet, we hear Pernell Saturnino on percussion, Hector Del Curto on bandoneon, Pablo Stagnaro on cajon, as well as pianists Ed Simon and Fernando Otero. The assured playing of the core quintet, complimented by these additional colors makes for a diverse and exciting album.
The Tango reference in the album name reflects a mixture of Argentinean music and jazz found throughout the album. The most obvious Tango presence is the use of a classic Astor Piazzolla composition “Revirado”. Del Curto makes a guest appearance on this piece, solidifying the Piazzolla presence with rhythmic and passionate bandoneon playing. His unison passages with Urcola put a jazz edge on this piece, while D’Rivera switches between clarinet and sax for strong, melodic lines. Yavnai’s composition “Funk Tango” moves a bit further from the traditional Tango sound with its fusion rhythmic feel. Still, the contrapuntal melodic lines and the call and response with the bass and piano never let us forget about the song’s Tango roots. “Milonga 10″ opens with a frenetic pace and angular rhythmic phrases. Walker’s drumming leans towards funk, but Saturnino’s percussion constantly reminds us of Milonga. One of the most interesting placements of tango resides in “La Yumba/Caravan”. The group takes the melody of this classic jazz standard and strengthens it with a driving tango rhythm section. Throughout the course of the song, the group moves into swing, Afro, and free playing. It’s quite a ride, delivering us back to tango at the end. In all, the album delivers some very interesting takes on the relationship between tango and jazz.
The rest of the material covers a variety of approaches, exploring the worlds of Latin Jazz. “What About That?” is a lively Brazilian piece, filled with some inspired soloing over both Baião and Samba rhythms. The album opens with a song entitled “Pere” which takes a traditional Salsa rhythm and stretches it into 5/4 time, creating a 2-4 clave! The Cuban “Contradanza” serves up some playful interplay between D’Rivera’s clarinet and Yavnai’s piano – touching both on the elegant nature of the music and the fun spirit behind it. Stagnaro’s composition “Mariela’s Dream” explores a combination of Peruvian rhythms and jazz; and the result shines with beauty. The album closes with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”, played in 6/8 with fiery solos from both D’Rivera’s sax and Urcola’s Trumpet. All this and more keeps your ear stimulated – the diversity and musical savvy travels from start to finish.
The playing from Paquito’s core quintet reflects a strong group aesthetic and a trust, built over years of playing together. The frontline of D’Rivera and Urcola plays both melodies and solos with the power of four horns. Much of this is due to the colors that D’Rivera and Urcola create from their doubling. D’Rivera continues his melodic combination of Charlie Parker and Chano Pozo on the Alto Sax, offering passionate solos on a regular basis. The use of his clarinet in sensitive spots or to create a different improvisational texture is brilliant – he makes the clarinet sing in a heartfelt and personal way. Urcola’s use of the valve trombone is especially effective, complimenting his established music voice on the trumpet. His trombone playing is thoughtful and practiced – at times you can let go of the valves, and imagine him playing a slide trombone! As a rhythm section, Yavnai, Stagnaro, and Walker take on the gargantuan task of providing the rhythmic and harmonic basis for this group’s jazz tour through Latin America. These guys are up to the task though – in fact, they make it sound easy. They remain true to the authentic rhythms and musical approaches from each tradition they approach. At the same time, they stay rooted in jazz aesthetics – there is a sense of modern harmony, the improvisations pull their initial influences from great jazz soloists, and the interaction is spontaneous. This is complimented by Yavnai tagging in Simon and then Otero for additional piano work. Each pianist adds their own harmonic approach to the songs, and they inspire soloists in unique ways. The overall musicianship from the members of the quintet is in full force throughout the album, creating an interesting musical trip.
In my opinion, Paquito has not created a disappointing album in the past, and his track record holds true with Funk Tango. His compositions and choice of repertoire is both musically challenging and entertaining. He continues to pull outstanding performances out of his musicians, balanced with fire and grace. His love of jazz and Latin American musical traditions shine through every moment of this recording. In fact, one of the most intriguing things heard on this recording is the dedication and commitment to playing this music. After 50 years in the music business, Paquito plays with the finesse of a seasoned pro and the eager energy of a child. This is a beautiful balance, that we probably all should aim for in our musical aspirations. It is refreshing and invigorating all at the same time, and once you catch hold of the fire from The Paquito D’Rivera Quintet? on this album, you’ll be listening again and again.